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Berlioz – The Damnation of Faust


Marguerite – Joyce DiDonato
Faust – Michael Schade
Mephistopheles – Willard White
Brander – Florian Boesch
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Valerie Gergiev

The Barbican Hall – 22 September 2009


Mephistopheles is usually the villain of the piece but on this occasion he must  certainly be declared as the saviour of the day in no uncertain fashion.  Not only did Sir Willard White step into the breach left by Thomas Quastoff’s withdrawal on the very morning of the concert, but to do so he flew in from Copenhagen where he has just started a run of performances as Henze’s El Cimarron.  There was never the least hint of unpreparedness in Sir Willard’s performance, which was authoritative in every way.  Glancing only occasionally at the score, he sang from within the character, colouring his rich voice with persuasive menace and with just the slightest but most eloquent of gestures he summoned up demons before our eyes and condemned Faust to his fate.


Joyce Di Donato as Marguerite was superb, whether ecstatically in first love, pining for her absent lover, penitent and condemned to death for causing the death of her mother, or merely sitting silently as a soul experiencing redemption whilst the chorus of seraphim sing their final chorale, she gave a performance of the utmost conviction. 


Florian Boesch was effective in the cameo role of Brander, but in the title role, Michael Schade never appeared at ease.   He seemed more reliant on his score than the other singers, and it was not until the second part of the concert that his voice showed through with the brilliance and vigour he can command.


Berlioz’s massive concert piece is an opera in the mind’s eye as successive scenes are  built from sound and peopled with dancing peasants, battle armies, a fearful pair of galloping horses and all the cohorts of hell.  The platform of the Barbican Hall was packed virtually to capacity with the very full orchestra and chorus, but there are also big contrasts in dynamics, with just a handful of instruments used to conjur up the moments of peace and reflection.   Valery Gergiev, a conductor who seems to control sections of the orchestra individually with each separate finger, was in his element, and the beauty and drama of this powerful work were revealed in glowing detail. 


 Serena Fenwick


Look out for the Met's Damnation of Faust - caught on Sky Arts, the most convincing operatic staging we've seen; it will make you feel it should never again be relegated to the concert hall. The DVD will be one not to miss. [Editor]